• Studio ATAO

Unlearning Scarcity, Cultivating Solidarity

Part 2: Understanding Transformative Solidarity And Creating Personal Pathways to Solidarity

Last Updated: 9.9.2020

Written By: Jenny Dorsey, Sarah Hong, Emily Chen, Sarah Koff

Edited By: Edric Huang, KarYee Au, Madie Lee, Phoebe Yu, Janii Yazon, Hanna Seabright

If you want a downloadable PDF of this document, please enter your email below and we'll send it directly to your inbox.

This free resource is made available by our regular donors. If you've learned something from our work, please consider supporting us financially so we can continue bringing free educational content to everyone. You can join our community via Patreon or send us a one-time donation via GiveLively.

Table of Contents

Part 1

Link to Separate Document

The Genesis of this Document

An overview of our methodology, an explanation of goals, and acknowledgement of limitations

What Is Scarcity Mentality?

The unpacking of the origins of scarcity as individuals and groups, specifically as it manifests within Asian American communities

The Social & Structural Weaponization of Scarcity

An examination of how the scarcity mentality has been utilized for sociopolitical agendas

Part 2

Click to jump to section

Contextualizing Solidarity Among Asian American Communities

Understanding the necessary investment and work for solidarity, and reviewing historical instances of Asian American solidarity

Integrating Solidarity Practices Into Your Everyday

Ways for individuals to combat scarcity and leverage their personal, professional, and communal networks to cultivate solidarity practices


Important terms referenced in this toolkit

Additional Resources

Relevant resources to continue this work beyond this toolkit

Contextualizing Solidarity Within the Asian American Community

Overcoming the scarcity mindset requires a fundamental belief that there are enough resources to fulfill every person’s needs, and uplifting -- instead of competing against -- one another results in a better and more satisfying outcome for everyone. In order to effectively support individuals and groups who may be different from us, we need to understand the issues they are facing, how they want those needs to be addressed, and the best way we can help them do so on their terms.

In these next two chapters, we will explore how to cultivate a sense of solidarity for Asian American communities with the tools and knowledge that academics, activists, and leaders before us have successfully implemented.

What is Solidarity?

Solidarity is generally defined as awareness or group unity based on shared identities, interests, or shifting opportunity structures. We particularly like this intersectional approach to solidarity, which describes it as an ongoing process of creating ties and coalitions across social groups by negotiating power asymmetries. Doing so requires representation of intersectionally marginalized individuals and groups within current social structures, and recognition of their unique experiences within larger socio-political systems of power.

For the purposes of this document, we’ll also refer to two verticals of solidarity:

  • In-group solidarity is when solidarity is expressed within a group, which can be formed on axes such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and profession. For Asian Americans, note that in-group solidarity still faces challenges due to hierarchies such as colorism and classism.

  • Out-group solidarity is when solidarity is expressed by members of one group to another group. For example, the recent calls for Asian Americans and other racial groups to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

To properly understand whom we are referring to when we say we “stand in solidarity” with others, we must examine solidarity on the axis of intersectionality.

Intersectionality is a theoretical framework developed by Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw that posits multiple social categories (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status) intersect at the micro level (individual experience) to reveal interlocking systems of privilege and/or oppression at the macro (social-structural) level, such as a combination of racism, sexism, and heterosexism.

  • For example, a cisgender Asian male can experience oppression based on race while also experiencing privilege for being a cisgender male.

It is important to note that intersectionality is not additive, or a “checklist” of identity categories. That is, we cannot fully understand a disabled South Asian woman’s experience by understanding “disability”, “Asianness”, and “womanhood” separately, because different forms of oppression build on each other to produce a new, specific expression of oppression.

When evaluating our commitment to being in solidarity with others, we need to look at who we tend to prioritize and why. For example, as Asian Americans fight for equity in the U.S., we need to ask ourselves: are we constructing a “better future” for Asian Americans only based on the ideas of cisgender, affluent Asian Americans? Or perhaps those who are conventionally attractive and able-bodied? Who is being erased, mis or underrepresented in our conversations for change?

For Asian Americans being in solidarity with the Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities -- who are we seeking out, listening to, and supporting (financially or otherwise) in those groups? What voices from those groups are we ignoring, consciously or unconsciously?

Transformative Solidarity

As Deepa Iyer writes, “The word transformative is important because it signifies a change, an evolution, and a maturation. Contrast this with a transactional practice, which begins and ends with the action.” We also like this explainer graphic that ties transformative solidarity seamlessly with the rejection of scarcity: “when oppressed communities choose to forgo something that would benefit them...because it comes at the expense of other oppressed communities.”

One participant built upon this idea of solidarity as:

“Not just standing up for someone with a different identity and might not have the same privileges...but looking to actively dismantle [systemic obstacles they face] using our own privilege.”

Another participant explained that solidarity requires “disrupting the narrative of what is considered ‘normal’ and what is not. It is daily work.” This includes taking steps such as:

1. Personally & publicly acknowledging our own privilege and complicity within the systems that oppress those we are allies to. Specifically as Asian Americans, we often experience privilege through our relative proximity to whiteness -- especially those of us with lighter skin tones.

2. Stepping out of our privilege in order to take action on behalf of those we are allies to, because fighting for change requires commitment and, sometimes, personal sacrifice. (For example, speaking out about racism even when it may cost you preferential treatment at work.)

3. Resisting opportunities to engage in structural inequities that benefit us. (For example, upper and upper-middle class Queens residents in NYC who would have benefited from the creation of a second Amazon HQ joining the fight to keep the company out.)

Solidarity is also a team effort. As one participant shared, their favorite quote is one from Jane Fonda: “When I was young, I thought that activism was a sprint. You know, if I just go fast enough everything can be fixed really quick. And then I got a little older and I realized that activism is more like a marathon, and I slowed down and learned to pace myself. But now that I'm seriously old, I realized that it's really a relay race. You pass the baton.”

Historical Examples of Asian American Solidarity

While Asian Americans are stereotyped to be politically inactive and/or uninterested, in actuality this is completely untrue. To create a sense of powerlessness, a commonly-used tactic is deodorization (a term coined by Kenneth B. Morris), or systematically erasing instances of solidarity from history, therefore depriving marginalized groups from having the resources, knowledge, vocabulary, and tools that enable solidarity.

This is often done in conjunction with “the whitening of history” (as stated by Malcolm X) to present a white-centric view of the past that normalizes ongoing systems of oppression and silences the voices of activists throughout history. For example, removing the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance founding march for justice in the beating of Rodney King in the 1992 LA Riots.

In fact, the term ‘Asian American’ itself was coined in 1968 by activist and historian Yuji Ichioka, as a “political identity imbued with self-definition and empowerment, signaling a new way of thinking and subverting the Orientalist tradition of lumping all Asians together”. Many of these ideas of self-determination and rejection of assimilation during the Asian Civil Rights Movement were inspired by the Black Power Movement and its leaders.

There have been and continue to be Asian American activists and organizations working to reclaim Asian American history, fight for better rights, and stand in solidarity with other marginalized groups. These below examples acknowledge the work that has been done, and we hope will empower more Asian Americans to become politically and civically engaged to chart the course of our collective future.

  • Oxnard Strike of 1903: In 1903, Mexican and Japanese farmworkers banded together to create the first multiracial labor union, the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association.

  • Delano Grape Strike of the 1960s: In 1965, the Filipinx-led labor group allied with the Mexican labor group to demand better conditions and pay leading to an international boycott of grapes, peaceful marches, and protests over 5 years that changed the course of the farm labor movement.

  • Third World Liberation Front Strike of 1968 - 1969: This strike began with the formation of the Third World Liberation Front, a coalition that included Black, Asian, and Latinx students. It resulted in the establishment of an ethnic studies department at SF State University and UC Berkeley, eventually leading to the creation of ethnic studies departments across the nation.

  • Asian American Civil Rights Movement (1960s - 1980s): The 1960s was a turning point for Asian Americans in acknowledging their multi-ethnic roots as Americans and taking action to fight for equality. This time was marked by the birth of the Yellow Power movement, where various coalitions were formed to fight for Asian American causes.

  • South Sacramento's Afro-Asian Solidarity (2018): Following the police killings of Stephon Clark (a Black man with a South Asian fiancee with whom they shared two young children) and Darell Richards (a 19-year-old mixed race Black-Hmong youth), a year of Afro-Asian protests against state-sanctioned violence took hold across South Sacramento.

Solidarity, Allyship, and Co-opting

Solidarity vs. Allyship

Solidarity and allyship are sometimes used interchangeably when they are not the same concept; other times, behaviors done on behalf of solidarity and/or allyship are actually unhelpful or even detrimental to the end goal of equity and equal access for everyone. This section examines how to distinguish solidarity from other forms of support by analyzing what has (and has not) been effective.

A useful definition of allyship is: The act of directly engaging in learning more information, unlearning harmful ideas, and being in support of a group you do not belong to.

By definition, allyship does not seem too dissimilar to solidarity. However, the major critiques of allyship are that its requirements are too passive, ambiguous in nature, and its main action steps (learning and unlearning) lacking in accountability. Especially in light of George Floyd’s murder and the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, many have been eager to proclaim themselves as “allies” without committing to ongoing change -- and quickly losing interest thereafter. Without action to dismantle oppressive systems, allyship is then rightly categorized as optical or performative. (This applies to both those self-identifying as allies and who “stand in solidarity” with others.) Due to this overuse, the word “allyship” can carry with it a negative connotation.

As one participant noted: “True solidarity [in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement] is not just being against racism but being anti-racist. It’s taking that next step after you decide you stand in solidarity with someone.”

This does not mean that allyship is bad, or we should not want to be allies. Instead, we must recognize that allyship -- and its major tenet, self-education -- is just the beginning of a long journey towards creating a more equitable society. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore says,

“Solidarity is constantly being remade. It never just is.”


To co-opt something is well-defined here as “using apparently cooperative practices to absorb those who seek change – to make them work with elites without giving them any new advantages”. In this way, “elites undermine movements by stripping them of their credibility as agents of change”.

Co-opting is particularly visible when done by brands. For example, many brands such as L’Oréal and Amazon posted performative statements in support of Black Lives Matter despite their ugly history of racism and lack of tangible action to change. Some took it one step further, co-opting the BLM slogan and making jewelry from shattered glass of the protests to turn a profit. Celebrities like Priyanka Chopra and Awkwafina have also come under fire for their problematic history while vocally supporting BLM.

However, even allies with the best intentions and those with marginalized identities can co-opt the movements of other groups through actions such as:

Rather than co-opting, find ways we can hold space for those we aim to uplift. For example, opening up our social platforms for others to speak; supporting the work of marginalized individuals instead of creating a ‘copy’ (e.g., anti-racism resources from formal educators). We lay out more actions for solidarity in the next chapter.

Integrating Solidarity Practices into Your Everyday and Holding Yourself Accountable

While it may seem like being in solidarity is purely an individual choice, it is important to recognize there are societal structures that create and enforce obstacles to taking action, particularly for marginalized individuals. In this section, we will examine ways Asian Americans, in particular, can overcome these obstacles and deepen their relationship with transformative solidarity.

Combating and Resisting the Scarcity Mentality

“I think we live in a world of selfishness. All the past movements, the civil rights to gain the right to attend schools and so forth, and now that education is being used for ‘everything is for me.’ We have no room to share with others. I think that if [my] story could be told, yes, there is a small room there. There are still deprived people, even more deprived people than in the past. The need to give today is far greater than in my own time.”

- Chol Soo Lee, a Korean American immigrant who was wrongfully imprisoned for 10 years. His arrest and subsequent trials and appeals caused a pan-Asian political movement in the 1970s-80s.

Many online articles encourage overcoming scarcity with the use of a variation of the “abundance mindset” or by focusing less on money and other material items. In these instances, scarcity is treated as a personal problem that can be solved with mental stamina, not a carefully designed and widely accepted system used to undermine Asian Americans and other marginalized identities. Thus, we find this method of “overcoming” scarcity fundamentally flawed.

Instead, we believe combating scarcity requires multi-layered actions that start at the personal level and extend further. Being a proponent of change will require you to not only engage in, but seek out tough conversations that question the status quo.

1. Personal actions: reject the institutional dogma that scarcity is inevitable and a condition of life, therefore everything you gain must come at the expense of someone else. Instead, focus your energy on supporting regenerative efforts in your community and industry that will uplift everyone. Ask yourself before committing to any cause: who really benefits from this?

Educate yourself on how scarcity has been maintained through institutionalized practices in American society. (For example, the false narrative around poor BIPOC ruining the environment.) Honestly assess how this veil of scarcity has impacted your approach to life and work. If you are to unlearn this mentality, in what areas of your life would you try to change its impact first?

One participant explained:

“I’ve been socialized so much to worry about holding onto my own social capital in case I squander it...that I forget the influence I do have.”

Another participant shared they have been changing how they frame the content they produce: “I used to have no qualms about saying this is the best recipe for so and so, this is the one and only ultimate example. Now, I think about how I can redirect people to say, ‘I make it this way, but also check out this other person.’ How can we always be sending eyeballs and clicks to one another?”

Action: Write down examples of how the scarcity mindset shows up in your daily life. Describe the circumstances that led to this mindset—specifically who you are guarding resources from, what you are attempting to protect, and why.

2. In close relationships, such as family and close friends, untangle the web of where scarcity stems from, how it relates to their own identities and perceptions of self, and analyze how it has been detrimental to your community as well as how it’s been used against other groups.

As one participant explained:white supremacy is all about information absorption” -- that is, white supremacy culture forms the basis of how we learn our own histories, perceive the world around us, and interact with people who do or do not look like us, “so we need to find ways to shift how we learn about and with each other.”

One participant shared that talking about past violence was challenging because her family believes perfectionism (a key aspect of white supremacist culture, see more in next section) can overcome any issues of scarcity and oppression -- and thus, rejected anything that wasn’t perfect. This made it “so hard to come out as a survivor of sexual violence...because if you have a traumatic thing happen to you, especially as a woman, then that whole picture of a ‘perfect’ daughter is gone.”

Action: Set aside time for a conversation with your loved ones about the intergenerational and intersectional differences of scarcity, preferably in a safe and comfortable space (e.g., home). Understand that this conversation will require a lot of patience -- unlearning doesn't happen overnight.

3. With casual relationships, such as acquaintances, offer opportunities for conversations about instances of scarcity being perpetuated. For example, discuss what it means for news sources to consistently frame Central American immigrants as people who are “stealing” jobs, when this has been shown as not the case.

Here, it is important to examine how each person’s intersectional identities can change their response to issues. One participant, who identifies as an Indian immigrant, reflected on how scarcity showed up differently for them, as opposed to Indian Americans: “back in 2016 I had only been in the States for 4 years…so the turmeric latte didn’t trigger me because I didn’t have the experience many Indian Americans had of their food be made fun of.”

Action: Invite these friends to book clubs, discussions, or even an “article exchange” where everyone can safely examine bigger social justice issues. Maintain an open forum for conversation to consistently share personal anecdotes, news, and other educational reads to evolve the group’s thought process. (We offer monthly book and movie discussions.)

4. Professionally, analyze why certain opportunities still feel scarce. How do you tend to react when other marginalized individuals are in the same “room” as you are? If you find yourself feeling competitive or concerned about your own status, is it because of tokenization and quota systems? What are new programs that can be implemented to combat this?

For example, one participant shared how a young BIPOC intern at their work performed poorly because they had no guidance. Instead of “taking steps to help them, myself and others just thought ‘Oh, I’ll just do it’ and that eventually led to [the intern] being seen as not a good worker, when that was not the case. Now I’m more conscious of when and where I can teach others instead of taking it all on myself.”

Action: Address issues of scarcity within your professional sphere of influence (e.g., with peers, your direct supervisor) and initiate implementation of experimental new ideas that will disrupt the existing structures of white dominance in your workplace. (Read our toolkit on Recognizing, Disrupting, and Preventing Tokenization for more on this.)

5. Politically, scarcity is often used as a tool to corral votes through fear and uncertainty about the future. Address these scare tactics in your close, professional, and casual relationships by overturning their logical fallacies and explaining the historical weaponization of scarcity.

Within capitalism, those of lower socioeconomic status are often relegated to a place of moral inferiority that “causes” their state of life, rather than a holistic acknowledgement of what may be unequally or unfairly distributed resources.

As one participant who grew up in Hong Kong said,

“There was a whole lot of anti-Blackness even when there were no white people around to tell us to feel this way,

because we don’t look past the circumstantial parts of how people look, how they act, what they do. [Many Black and Brown individuals in HK are subject to lack of resources/access, and essentially redlined into certain areas.] We don’t switch from the instinctual to analyze the bigger picture, so we fail to address bigger, systemic issues. It’s not ‘just’ the white lens.”

Take Stock of Your Intersectionality Identity

Ask yourself: How do I identify? What dominant groups and non-dominant groups are included in my identity? What privileges do they come with, or lack?

  • Consider race, gender, sexual orientation, class (both current and childhood), education level, religion, nationality, ethnicity, physical and/or neurodivergence.

Deliberate on the conscious and unconscious biases ingrained in how you were raised and how you live your life today. In addition to scarcity, a Salon participant noted that the cultural norm of “do good but don’t tell anyone” because it is seen as crude to “show off” is both a display of solidarity (giving without expectation) and an interesting challenge to tackle as Asian Americans work to encourage wider involvement in social justice work.

Educate Yourself on the Context and Structure of our Society

The biases we internalize about ourselves, other marginalized groups, and the superiority of the dominant group are not an accident. The dominant culture, by design, has historically controlled the means of production. This includes control over who and how history is told, what narratives are deemed part of public school canon and what is considered “radical”.

For example, one participant shared that on their solidarity journey they have been digging further into the history of the U.S. with people from their background. “Just asking the question, ‘why are there so many Filipinx nurses?’ has been a starting point for me.”

As we increase our discernment, Tema Okun’s White Supremacy Culture is a useful tool in naming the ways in which our institutions, work places, and schools are based in oppressive norms, how they are used to harm us, and actively reject them when they arise. A few examples our Salon participants noted were:

1. Perfectionism: The false binary that solidarity must be perfect, or it is worthless. This also equates making mistakes as “being a mistake”, as Okun puts it, and results in “little to no learning from mistakes”. This instills feelings of powerlessness, and deters newcomers f